Rep. Alcee Hastings (D)
Florida 23rd District
In the morning shadow of the high-rise condominiums that line the Atlantic Ocean, behind the quiet waters that separate the barrier islands from the mainland and a few blocks off old U.S. 1, are the African-American neighborhoods of South Florida’s Gold Coast. They are gatherings of older stucco homes and commercial storefronts, ranging from upper-middle-class enclaves to rundown slums. These neighborhoods, populated by the working poor and with relatively few seniors, are bypassed by most tourists.
2008 Presidential Vote
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The 23rd Congressional District of Florida gathers together many of South Florida’s black neighborhoods in a geographically contrived, but demographically coherent, constituency. Geographically, most of the district is in the Everglades, east and south of Lake Okeechobee. This is a land of swamps and drainage canals, with some farms and citrus groves. Some people live in migrant-worker camps, some on the Miccosukee Indian Reservation, and some in places like Southwest Ranches, a new community where residents have opposed roads and street lights. The district has four narrow tentacles that extend east from the Everglades and get close to, but never reach, the Atlantic Ocean. The northernmost stretches into St. Lucie County and takes in black neighborhoods in Fort Pierce. In northern Palm Beach County, a tentacle reaches past high-income Wellington into West Palm Beach, then continues south along the railroad tracks and U.S. 1 to Delray Beach, which was the site of a civil rights showdown in 1956 and now has a large Haitian community. The most populated tentacle reaches east into Broward County to take in African-American areas in Lauderhill, Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach, and Deerfield Beach. Farther south in Broward County, a smaller tentacle reaches into parts of fast-growing Miramar and Pembroke Pines, home to upwardly mobile Haitians and also to one of the Century Village communities, the retirement development known for its politically powerful, liberal associations led by “condo commandos.” But in some parts of Pembroke Pines and Sunrise, Hispanics from Miami-Dade County are replacing Jews. Overall, the population is 55% black and 17% Hispanic. This is a heavily Democratic district, with incoming Cubans providing the only minor countertrend. But it is not uniformly liberal on all issues. In 2008, African-American voters backed a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage by about 2-to-1, enabling it to carry Broward County despite its large gay population.
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D)
Elected: 1992, 9th term.
Born: Sept. 5, 1936, Altamonte Springs .
Education: Fisk U., B.A. 1958, Howard U., 1958-60, FL A&M, J.D. 1963.
Family: Single; 3 children.
Elected office: Broward Cnty. Circuit Court judge, 1977–79.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1964–77; Federal judge, U.S. District Court, 1979–89.
The congressman from the 23rd District is Alcee Hastings, a Democrat first elected in 1992 and the only member of Congress ever to have been impeached and removed from office as a federal judge. Hastings had a relatively wide-ranging upbringing in the segregated America of the post-World War II decades. He grew up in a black suburb of Orlando and moved as a child to Jersey City and New York, where his parents worked as domestic servants for a rich Jewish family. He recalls attending a bar mitzvah as a guest. He also attended a Rosenwald school in Altamonte Spring, one of hundreds established for Southern blacks by Sears executive Julius Rosenwald. He graduated from Fisk University in Nashville and from Florida A&M Law School in Tallahassee.
|Alcee Hastings (D)||172,835||(82%)||($671,962)|
|Marion Thorpe (R)||37,431||(18%)||($50,970)|
|Alcee Hastings (D)||31,182||(88%)|
|Ray Sanchez (D)||4,235||(12%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (100%), 2004 (100%), 2002 (77%), 2000 (76%), 1998 (100%), 1996 (73%), 1994 (100%), 1992 (59%)
From those beginnings, he made a rapid ascent, practicing law in Fort Lauderdale and finishing fourth in the five-candidate Democratic primary when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1970, at age 34. He became a state judge in Broward County in 1977 and was appointed a federal judge in 1979. Then his career took a sharp turn downward. He was charged with conspiring with a friend to take a $150,000 bribe and give two convicted swindlers light sentences. A Miami jury acquitted Hastings in 1983, but the friend was convicted. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals called for impeachment in 1987 and referred the case to Congress. Hastings was impeached by the U.S. House on a vote of 413-3 and convicted by the Senate 69-26. In the House, Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, made the case for impeachment. As a footnote, during a 1997 investigation into the Federal Bureau of Investigation crime lab, the Department of Justice found that an agent falsely testified against Hastings. He and Conyers moved to reopen the case, but nothing came of it.
After his removal from the bench, Hastings was unapologetic. In 1990, he ran an abortive campaign for governor, then lost in a primary for secretary of state. When the 23rd District was created in 1992, he led in the primary 28%-27%. In the October runoff, he faced Palm Beach County legislator Lois Frankel, who blasted Hastings for his record. He responded, “The bitch is a racist.” Hastings was helped by a ruling by federal Judge Stanley Sporkin that his removal from office was invalid since the full Senate did not hear the charges. The Supreme Court later ruled to the contrary in a case of another convicted federal judge in 1993, but by that time Hastings was in Congress. He won the runoff 58%-42%, with voting closely following racial lines. He won the general election 59%-31%. Since then, he has not had a serious primary or general-election challenge.
In the House, Hastings’ voting record has been mostly liberal, but toward the center on foreign policy. He opposed the use of force in Iraq and has been a strong supporter of Israel. He told the Palm Beach Post in May 2007: “There is a nexus between Jews and blacks by virtue of the Holocaust and by virtue of slavery which, independent of each other, were horrible events that humankind does not want to happen again.”
In 2004, with the support of Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert, he was elected president of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in the pan-European Parliamentary Assembly and served two one-year terms. In 2007, he became chairman of the counterpart U.S. commission. In 2006, the House passed his resolution condemning Iran for hosting a conference on Holocaust denial. The next year, Hastings pressed for the opening of Holocaust archives in Bad Arolsen, Germany, and three weeks later, the archives were opened. He took a nuanced stand on the issue of detaining terrorism suspects at Guantanamo, saying, “Guantanamo has to be closed, over and out, but if Europe isn’t prepared to stand up and take their share, I believe they ought to mute some of their criticism.” As head of the OSC, he monitored the elections in Georgia in January 2008.
After the 2006 election, he was seriously considered for chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He had support from the Congressional Black Caucus but was opposed by the Blue Dogs and others who maintained that his controversial past disqualified him from such an assignment. Hastings attacked his critics as “misinformed fools,” but Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi nevertheless selected Texas Democrat Silvestre Reyes. Hastings said he was persuaded to step aside during a late-night telephone conversation with former President Bill Clinton. “I am not angry,” he told National Journal afterward. “At some point along the way, it became too much to explain. That is legitimate politics. But it’s unfortunate for me.” However, Hastings does have a seat on the Rules Committee, an influential post that gives him a hand in setting the terms for bringing bills to the floor.
Hastings made his mark on some issues of local importance. He sponsored a bill to preserve former stops on the Underground Railroad in Florida and elsewhere. His bill to prevent Haitian illegal immigrants from being routinely deported received little support in September 2008, but when hurricanes hit Haiti, he successfully pressed Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to delay deportations for two months. He pressed the issue again in January 2009.
Naturally, Hastings’ opinion was sought when the subject of impeachment arose, and it was exuberantly given. He saw President Bill Clinton’s 1998 impeachment as being driven by prosecutors abusing their powers, like the judges in his own case. “In my case, they nullified a jury. In this case, they are nullifying an election,” he said. He moved to impeach Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, but his motion was voted down 340-71 in the Republican-controlled House. In June 2008, he was consistent with his previous position, when he voted against the resolution to impeach President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. He told the Miami Times in June 2008: “It would tear this country apart. … This nation is in a gut-wrenching death grip ideologically. To split it, no matter what Cheney and Bush have done, would leave us probably beyond repair in our lifetimes.”
On national issues, Hastings, with Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, filed a lawsuit in 2007 to prevent the Democratic National Committee from refusing to seat the Florida delegation because the Legislature had set the state’s primary before Super Tuesday. The lawsuit was dismissed in December. A supporter of Hillary Rodham Clinton for president, Hastings campaigned for her in Florida and in Super Tuesday primary states, even though Barack Obama carried his district in the primary. Taking an original stand, Hastings in June 2008 called for a commission to consider expanding the size of the House beyond 435 members. That number, he pointed out, was established by statute in 1929 and can be changed by an act of Congress. He said there were too many constituents in each district for lawmakers to serve them adequately.